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Let’s begin the way I will happily begin my phone calls for the foreseeable future. Hi, I’m Cory Matteson, a public affairs reporter with the Springfield Daily Citizen.
That felt good, and it feels great to join a new newsroom with a talented, growing team of journalists, editors and staff. It’s made the welcome to Springfield warm.
I moved here from Lincoln, Nebraska, where I wrote for the Lincoln Journal Star for just over a decade. I began as a public safety reporter, and my first assignment was to inquire about a severe beating of an inmate by another inmate at a state correctional facility. The reporting led me to a Lincoln hospital, where I stood bedside with his family hours before they opted to remove him from life support. As jarring as that proximity felt, I would not have been able to share the story the same way without it. It was the start of a role where I often interviewed people during some of the most traumatizing moments of their lives. For about five years, I helped cover crime, courts, fires and the corresponding law enforcement and emergency management agencies.
Then I moved to the features desk, where I worked as a general assignment reporter and once asked “Weird Al” Yankovic what the meaning of life is. (I often think about his answer: “Life is an infinite bowl of salamanders. If I have to explain that, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to understand.”)
While that role let me talk to performers passing through town, my main aim was to write about people who lived in Lincoln and the surrounding area — and what they were doing that contributed to the area’s uniqueness. One of my last stories in the winter of 2018 focused on a grassroots effort to provide Lincoln’s houseless and working poor populations with an overlooked item that many asked for while in line for a free meal at a local nonprofit: lip balm.
Lincoln residents had donated heaps before the story ran. After it ran, Burt’s Bees donated a thousand balms. The nonprofit started giving people three or four at a time — community journalism in action. A week or so later, I, like tens of thousands of other local journalists in recent years, got laid off.
By the time it happened, I’d survived more than a few rounds of newsroom cuts and had been bracing for it for years, stockpiling troves of free coffee and deli sub punch cards. Kidding aside, it hurt and still often hurts. Not only did it feel like I had unfinished business in my journalism career, but I also felt like I left my colleagues hanging. The Journal Star, Springfield News-Leader and local newsrooms across the country continue to publish must-reads written by exceptional, dialed-in reporters. Their work is made all the more impressive by the added hurdles they face in their shrinking newsrooms. I miss plenty about my old newsroom, but not, as Steve Pokin pointed out in his introduction, the rational dread that each fiscal quarter could be my last. That’s why joining Springfield’s new nonprofit newsroom at its outset thrills me. We’re building something here.
I’m excited to move back to Missouri — M-I-Z — and join a Daily Citizen team with a wealth of knowledge about an area of the state that is all new to me. As mentioned in last week’s hiring announcement, my wife and I are eager to check out the Ozarks’ many trails, waterways and Waffle Houses. (OK, I just tacked on the last one.)
As one of two public affairs reporters (along with Jackie Rehwald), we’ll each be looking at challenges specific to Springfield and Greene County and how they are being addressed (or not). Our respective coverage areas are expansive. Read her introduction to learn where she will focus.
I’ll be taking the lead on K-12 and college education, the environment, the region’s evolving demographics and public health, with an early emphasis on issues linked to COVID-19. Before joining the Springfield Daily Citizen team, I worked for the National Drought Mitigation Center, which is housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In short, the goal of the Drought Center is to better help communities, states and countries monitor the development of droughts and to better prepare for them before they hit. I did not get a climatology degree during my time at the Drought Center, but I learned a ton from people who did. What they taught me will help inform how I approach environmental reporting, as will conversations with people around the Ozarks who are experiencing issues firsthand. To borrow a drought monitoring term, I intend to bring that objective blend to each of my coverage areas. So, if any of those areas made you think, “I’m affected by that,” please email, call or reach out on Twitter.
I think that’s enough about me. Let’s get started.